Certainly there are at least two Japans – one is available for visitors with no language knowledge, and another one is for “insiders”, for those who are either Japanese or if are from abroad, speak a very high level of Japanese.
I am lucky, as during this first trip to Japan, thanks to our friend, Hector Garcia (Kirai), who lives in Tokio since 12 years, we got a handful experience of both. And it’s only me who is in Japan for the first time: my partner visits it almost every year since about 5-6 years for various reasons each year.
The best guide for Japan is a friend who lives there, no doubt. And Hector is a real geek – so if you are planning a tour to Japan, or you’re only interested in its distinct culture, I warmly recommend his blog in English, or in Spanish. He also published a famous book entitled “A geek in Japan” which is a great source of answers to most of our questions and doubts.
Japan is a country of extreme comfort – just a few examples:
- You can buy hot and cold tea and many other type of drinks almost on every 2nd corner in any city (including the tiniest ones too, though “tiny city” in Japanese terms still means something quite large). I love this.
- Until this trip I was convinced that the USA is the most developed in automatised toilet issues. I was wrong. Japan offers something quite unexpected: heated (!) toilet seats with in-built shower possibilities (hot or cold), and bide functions for women. This is no joke. Check the photos here below. I love heated toilet seats… you can find these even on the Shinkansen trains. And most of women toilets have a separated seat for a small child. It’s so helpful!
Of course, there is no remote controller on the Shinkansen, but the toilet seats are warm :). A Shinkansen is an extra high express train, all of them has a name, and most of them look like this:
- Automatic opening and closing in most taxis of their left rear door – but if you’re not careful enough getting in the car, the door may slam on you foot…
- Signs. Everywhere. To indicate where you are and how to find your way where you wish to go. In English. Yay!
Comfort is above everything. It’s easy to get used to it. And, when you accidentally drop your pullover and it falls down to the rails, there is a station guard who you can ask for help – and who calls for help immediately. The arriving “help” holds a 1,5 or 2 m long picking stick in his hands, and at the end, the pullover gets recovered. What an adventure!
Possibly I am quite an irregular traveller. I didn’t make any plans – I let my partner to show me around “his Japan”, and let our friend to guide us in Tokio into a minuscule bar of maximum 4 guests, which after all leads us to even more extreme experiences. We discover two cats who usually, in normal circumstances never leave the bar – Gigi (Jiji – a black one, just like from the Ghibli animation Kiki’s Delivery Service, and a creamy one called Michan).
I’ve never seen so calm and obedient cats as these two before. With their protector they even followed us to our unexpected journey into a following bar where one of our Japanese companion took us. I think they really enjoyed that our friend could speak a perfect Japanese.
I didn’t even check what is needed to visit the Studio Ghibli museum: and visitor tickets would have been needed to be bought at least a month ahead. Ah well… such a pity. It shall bring me back at least one more time then. I hope. We got as far as Totoro‘s entrance.
Then, after Tokyo we travelled to Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka – tracking Geishas whom we haven’t seen in our short visit. One thing is for sure: you need to be blind to miss Sakura in Japan during these weeks. Usually parks are full of people, and people are getting crazy shooting photos and selfies with the trees. They look lovely and amazing and are really all around. This photo here below was shot in Ueno Park, Tokyo.
In Nara, in the Tōdai-ji Temple, there is a huge Buddha statue, beautiful and enormous. But the most interesting and sacred sculpture is one of Buddha’s disciple, Pindola Bharadvadja, master of occult, mystical, psychic powers; one of those disciples whom Buddha asked to remain in the world to propagate Buddhist dharma. He is known as a powerful healer of ill cases (whatever it might be).
As most of the temples we’ve visited, Tōdai-ji also feels like a peace radiating center. Like a pebble dropped in still water, creating waves, it sends out peace-stimulations to everyone close and far away. Some of the pillars of peace and beauty in our world. I love them. And, of all places, I liked the most the pathways of Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine in the proximity of Kyoto. On a less walked path we discovered the shrine of Rock-Buddhas and “kitsune”s, foxes, most of which wear a bib, which means they are not adult foxes yet.
I like Japan. It fits me, however it has lots of rules and orders which can be tiring (e.g. move your phone’s ringtone to silent and avoid taking calls on a metro, train, etc, and usually try not to disturb others as much as possible).
And there is another Japan, with equally highly ceremonial and full of rules, which you cannot access if you are not with a Japanese friend or with a friend who speaks Japanese. As Hector writes in his book, a Japanese will hardly ever say you “no”. But there are other ways to find out that you are an unwanted alien at some spaces. I prefer a clear “no”, but it was good to experience how we could not enter a restaurant in Kyoto, because they prefer not to deal with strangers, and how we had an extremely bad service (though good food) in a place where we ended up. This can happen, when you are unlucky for a while, but it’s nothing serious.
The country is beautiful, people are very kind and everyone speaks at least one word of English (“Sorry”). And the kitchen is extraordinary as well as the quality of hotel beds, so all is perfect. And, for sure, a certain amount of patriotism is very healthy: here the worst thing which can happen to you is not to be Japanese. Nobody can be perfect.
I have to run, we’re going to transfer soon in Tokyo toward Nagano. In 12 minutes. More to come later :).